Written by Cherie Morris, JD, Parent Coordinator and Divorce Coach
So, you’re getting a divorce. You’ve likely contemplated an array of important decisions. It’s essential to be informed about the choices you make during this life transition, even if the divorce isn’t your first choice. To accomplish this, you can consult a legal professional, a financial expert, a divorce coach and parent coordinator, and a therapist too. In addition, you might review primary sources like case law, or secondary resources like what you’ll find here on it’s over easy, which cover many of categories that you’ll most likely be thinking about as you face divorce. If your goal is to save time, money and create the best life going forward for you and your kids, doing your homework is critically important.
One important aspect of your divorce is how your kids will spend time with you and your co-parent. This requires, in many jurisdictions, that a Parenting Plan be part of the Divorce Agreement. In other jurisdictions, there is no formal requirement, but it is one of the most important elements of your divorce as it involves your child(ren)’s well-being. Your offspring had both of you before the divorce and you should think rationally about what’s best for them and what is possible for you post-divorce.
Divorce through a Child’s Eyes
If you have current conflict, based on the divorce, it can be difficult to think clearly about how this looks to your children. It’s a critical mistake, however, not to do so. It’s clear most kids, and most parents, benefit from some form of shared custody. That’s worth repeating: Kids thrive when they spend time with and are cared for by both of their parents, even when both parents live apart after a divorce. It’s not the divorce that hurts kids but the conflict between their parents. https://www.divorcemag.com/blog/child-parent-relationship-after-high-conflict-divorce/
So, in addition to sharing parenting time, it’s important to manage the entire process from scheduling to drop-offs and pick-ups so that your children do not feel the conflict that may exist between you and your ex.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
When we talk about custody, it’s important to remember there are two types: physical custody and legal custody. In general, physical custody refers to the location of the child on the various days of the week; legal custody refers to refers to the responsibilities of making major decisions that affect the child's welfare, including decisions regarding the health, education and religious upbringing of the child. When thinking about a schedule for the kids, you should decide whether you will share physical custody 50/50 or whether there is another shared percentage, per parent, that works for both of you. It is true that 50/50 physical custody is more common now than a decade ago, it may not be the right schedule for you and your co-parent. The percentage of time you have the child may impact the child support you receive or pay.
Parenting Time (A.K.A. Visitation Schedule) Considerations:
Once you’ve factored in all of these elements, it’s time to build a plan that works for you, your co-parent and your child(ren). The options are abundant and may be customized but, if you are sharing 50/50 custody, there are a few common practices that exist for rotating the schedule.
For examples of time sharing based on other common physical custody percentages schedules, for example, 60/40, 70/30 and 80/20, visit www.custodyexchange.com.
Co-parenting Plans Explained:
Tweens & Teens
One advantage of the 2-2-5-5 schedule is having your child(ren) consistent days of the week, that is, you will always have Mondays and Tuesdays or Wednesdays and Thursdays, for example, which allow you to schedule particular lessons or events for consistent days that they are with you. The disadvantage is a relatively short time period between transition, so it may be more practical with younger children unless your tweens and teens don’t mind the shuttling around part very much.
Nesting Is Not Just for Birds
All of the schedules we’ve discussed relate to moving the kids from one household to another. A less common but possible option is called “Nesting.” This requires the co-parents to move in and out of the household instead of the child(ren). It requires that you and your co-parent have a particularly high level of regard, respect and trust for each other, even if you live in separate bedrooms of the house. Some co-parents even manage to share one apartment or other dwelling outside of the family home where they live when not in the family home. It isn’t generally a long-term solution and some experts recommend ending the “Nesting” exercise before either parent begins dating. If you think Nesting can work for you and your co-parent, it can be very good for the kids to allow them to stay in one place, at least for a period of time for their adjustment to the new reality.
In addition to the normal schedule, you should also consider how holidays, vacations, and other days off from school will work. This can all be part of your Parenting Agreement. Often, co-parents alternate holidays and days off from school annually or, and this is the important part, in the way that best works for them and their child(ren). The key, again, is a plan that is workable and keeps conflict low(er).
The key to a good Parenting Plan is good communication. This doesn’t mean you and your co-parent do not have issues between you. It means you need to be able to discuss issues related to your kids, even when you disagree, and have a method to resolve the disagreement that doesn’t drag your kids into the middle of the conflict. Often, email is a viable way to communicate, we just recommend you keep it brief and courteous. If agreement cannot be achieved after, for example, three rounds of back and forth by email, you can specify, in your Parenting Plan that you see a Parenting Coordinator or Mediator specializing in parental conflict, to get help resolving your disagreements. It’s rare that going to court gets you the kind of decision that is helpful to you and your children. It’s much better to figure these things out yourselves. If that’s not possible, work with a professional who is educated about you and your family, who can help you and your co-parent strategize about finding a solution that works in your particular family. After all, although it now has a different form, a family of divorce is still that: a family. You and your co-parent will be connected, in some form, through your child(ren) forever so figuring out how to navigate that will set a tone that may help you and your child(ren) for many years to come.
*Special Thanks to my bonus child, Sophia Truman, 13, for contributing her thoughts about custody schedules for tweens and teens to this article. Click ahead for more information on how to co-parent
Cherie Morris practices as a Parent Coordinator and Certified Divorce Coach. She is trained as a lawyer, yoga teacher and is also an author, divorced mother of 4 and now part of a blended family. Life is always interesting and challenging.
You can find Cherie at:
Certified Divorce Coach, Parent Coordinator, Lawyer, Yoga Teacher, Divorced Parent